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163. Books Bought & Read, December 2017…

163. Books Bought & Read, December 2017…

It took some willpower, (and weather cold enough to keep me curled up indoors with some honeybush tea for most of December, rather than riffling through beaten-up boxes in New York’s plentiful secondhand bookeries), but I managed to end 2017 as I had just four times in the previous year: reading more books than I bought, and continuing to eat my way into my almost infinite To Read pile, like an over-stuffed diner at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Thirteen books made their way to my once-more filled Billy Bookshelves, whilst fifteen were consigned to the past tense, and this month saw one of the highest ratio of recommended books I’ve shared for a long time. More than half of them I deemed good enough to make your winter warming list, from poetry beautiful in every sense to literature by a teenager; old English classics to modern American legends.

Firstly, (and fittingly, given the weather), this was a Penguin-heavy month. I discovered four further additions to my Penguin Classic Deluxe menagerie (Machiavelli, an African Achebe trilogy, the previously unknown Ernst Jünger, whose novel about World War I now sits incongruously next to a colourful Anne of Green Gables), whilst reading one old favourite and one complete newcomer to me, (although I only bought T.S.Hinton’s work from my new friend ‘D’ on the Southeast corner of Union Square due to its shiny 50th Anniversary Penguin Classics cover).

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Considering it was written by a 16-year-old, ‘The Outsiders‘ was an astonishingly gripping, insightful story of the grey areas between right and wrong, good and bad, rich and poor, mature and im-, and I thoroughly enjoyed the short read, a feeling reproduced days later (although with less surprise) when I revisited one of my literary crushes and polished off Graham Greene’s ‘England Made Me,’ also in a Penguin edition.

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Reading Greene again after several years was the literary equivalent of stalking an ex-girlfriend on Facebook, making sure that Greene is still beautiful but depressed, fascinating but pessimistic. I may have learned more about love, life, and how they slowly wear you down than from any other author.

Greene made up for the first ever (slightly) disappointing Borges collection I have encountered to date, (‘Brodie’s Report‘ being more prosaic than his usual magical tales), but that was washed away by the surreal, raw energy of another unknown, this time the wonderful weirdness of the prose poem ‘Grief Is The Thing With Feathers‘ in which crows come to some sort of life in the place of a loved one who has left it. Breathtakingly powerful.

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My brother has several original pieces of art on his apartment wall from a graphic novel I had never read, but due to its title had been sitting on my wife’s bookshelf since I bought her a dedicated copy at ComicCon a few years ago. This winter seemed like as good a time as any to tackle the toe-breaking omnibus compilation of Terry Moore’s ‘Rachel Rising,’ and it was a dark and funny roller-coaster of a tale, part Gaimany magic and part Stoppardian riposte and repartee, with some pretty twisted moments.

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Chuck Klosterman’s decade’s worth of collected articles (titled simply: ‘X‘) are cultural artifacts which remain a joy to browse, whilst Christopher Hitchens‘ interviews are a time capsule from another political era which seems like it was centuries ago. Both were thought-provoking and highly enjoyable, (balanced by the tale of Trumpian Brexiting which even my favourite living philosopher, A.C.Grayling, failed to make anything but depressing, if informative, in ‘Democracy And Its Crises‘).

This month, I learned how much magic goes into movie-making from legendary (and highly readable) film critic David Thompson; the danger that comes with overthrowing the Egyptian government from Bassem Youssef, (‘The Egyptian Jon Stewart‘); the wonders of a support system for the broken-hearted in yet another excellent Ted Talk book; the views on war (as if I didn’t know them already) of the ever excellent Kurt Vonnegut; and ploughed through one of the most beautiful (if awkward to read) books with a newly illustrated Walt Whitman, which proved that art and literature can go hand in hand. But sometimes shouldn’t.

And with these pages, and these words, I end the month, and the year, and invite you to follow me on another twelve month journey through the books which cross my path in 2018.

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Happy reading!

 

Books Bought, December 2017

Storm Of Steel, (Ernst Jünger)

Cuba On The Verge: 12 writers on continuity and change in havana and across the country (ed.Leila Guerriero)

Song Of Myself (Walt Whitman, illustrations Allen Crawford)

Anne Of Green Gables (L.M.Montgomery)

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)

How To Fix A Broken Heart (Dr.Guy Winch)

The Last Interview (Christopher Hitchens)

Snoopy: Not Your Average Dog (Charles M.Schulz)

Walden and Civil Disobedience (Henry David Thoreau)

The Prince (Machiavelli)

The Outsiders (T.S.Hinton)

Democracy And Its Crisis (A.C.Grayling)

The Africa Trilogy (Chinua Achebe)

 

Books Read, December 2017

X (Chuck Klosterman)

Rachel Rising (Terry Moore)

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)

The Last Interview (Christopher Hitchens)

How To Fix A Broken Heart (Dr.Guy Winch)

How To Watch A Movie (David Thomson)

Armageddon In Retrospect (Kurt Vonnegut)

Democracy And Its Crisis (A.C.Grayling)

The Outsiders (T.S.Hinton)

Song Of Myself (Walt Whitman, illustrations Allen Crawford)

Brodie’s Report (Jorge Luis Borges)

Snoopy: Not Your Average Dog (Charles M.Schulz)

England Made Me (Graham Greene)

Think Like A Freak (Steven D.Levitt & Stephen J.Dubner)

Revolution For Dummies: laughing through the arab spring (Bassem Youssef)

 

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Posted by on January 4, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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157. Books Bought & Read, June 2017…

157. Books Bought & Read, June 2017…

In ‘Willpower,’ the fascinating study of that illusive character trait which I have in abundance when it comes to alcohol and not at all when it comes to purchasing books, Baumeister and Tierney discuss how strict diets can set the average weight watcher up for failure as, once you transgress your self-imposed limits once, it often leads to the food floodgates opening.

The bibliographic equivalent befell me this month.

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Since last month, I have made a vague effort to not read at least as many books as I buy, and with a week to go I was a couple of copies ahead of my purchasing potential.

And then I visited my friend Chris at the Central Park Strand Stand, and all the month’s good work was undone.

So it didn’t seem worthwhile holding back anymore, and I emerged later that (hot, humid, New York) afternoon from the mythical underground East Village Books and Records with three as-yet unowned editions of the Last Interview series (all B’s, bizarrely: Bolaño, Bradbury and my beloved Borges), as well as a second Kerouac of the month, (not bad for an author I’m pretty sure I dislike, but when Penguin decides to include him in their Classic Deluxe Editions, what’s a collector to do?!)

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So, 33 bought, 23 read, and a new written dietary regime begins afresh in July.

Frustratingly, in an effort to hurriedly rebalance the scales, I ended up reading a book I HAD ALREADY READ. Denis Johnson is an incredible, versatile author, and ‘The Laughing Monsters,’ his short tale of passion, betrayal and spies in Africa, may have been equally fun the second time around, but there are too many books in the universe, (or on my bookshelves, even), for me to read books twice. Fie.

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I was depressed by Joshua Ferris’s wonderfully bleak short story collection ‘The Dinner Party‘, (his debut novel, ‘Then We Came To The End,’ is still one of my favourites of the past few years); thought-provoked by Klosterman’s challenging ‘But What If We’re Wrong?’ (with its ingenious, OCD-infuriatingly upside-down cover); and discovered a new author when I finally read some Carson McCullers short stories, and went straight back to the shelf to wolf down her ‘ The Member Of The Wedding.

Nothing much happens in this lilting, Southern tale, but it fails to happen in such gorgeously described detail, and features a kind of female Catcher In The Rye, (as I saw the main character described), which makes for a wonderful reading experience.

But if there is one theme to last month’s reading, it is: beautiful editions.

Naturally, there were a few more informative TED talks , and I finally started in on the small corner of sweet, red-bound New York Review of Books kids series I have tucked away, (with a bizarre and bizarrely dark tale by Astrid Lindgren,), but it was the equally Scandewegian, equally fairy taley H.C.Anderson who provided the most beautiful bindings for my shelf.

Ten Speed Press released stunning, cloth-bound editions of two Anderson tales, (the puzzling ‘The Fir Tree‘ and the deeply disturbing ‘The Snow Queen‘), with illustrations from neighbouring Finn (and contender for Most Melodic Name Of All Time Award) Sanna Annukka. They were originally intended as presents for my (newly) 8-year-old niece, but somehow haven’t found their way off my shelf yet.

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Luckily, the same can’t be said for probably my favourite book this past month: ‘I’m Just No Good At Rhyming,’  from TV comedy writer Chris Harris. Within half a dozen pages I was a kid again, (not that it takes much…) reading Michael Rosen and Dr.Seuss and Shel Silverstein, and laughing out loud perhaps more than a 39-year-old should at a kids book of poems.

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Harris and illustrator Lane Smith make full use of page space, visual gags, comedy callbacks, and surrealism, sprinkled with just the right amount of not-too-much emotion to produce a work I was more than happy to present to my equally delighted niece.

Mainly because I had two copies.

 

 

Books Bought, June 2017

Seiobo There Below (László Krasznahorkai)

The Sunset Limited (Cormac McCarthy)

The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe and other stories(Carson McCullers)

Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

On The Road (Jack Kerouac)

The Wonderful O (James Thurber)

The Book Of The People: how to read the bible (A.N.Wilson)

Asteroid Hunters (Carrie Nugent)

Glaxo (Hernán Ronsino)

The Good Earth (Pearl S.Buck, ill.Nick Bertozzi)

Lord Of The Flies (William Golding)

Who Are You Really? the surprising puzzle of personality (Brian R.Little)

The Blue Fox (Sjón)

Vile Bodies (Evelyn Waugh)

Sputnik Sweetheart (Haruki Murakami)

Welcome To The Monkey House (Kurt Vonnegut)

Shenzhen: a travelogue from china (Guy Delisle)

The Crucible (Arthur Miller)

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (Mark Twain)

The Abolition Of Man (C.S.Lewis)

The Snow Queen (Hans Christian Anderson)

The Fir Tree (Hans Christian Anderson)

Dracula (Bram Stoker)

The Last Temptation (Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli & Alice Cooper)

Stories Of Your Life and other stories (Ted Chiang)

Am I Alone Here? notes on living to read and reading to live (Peter Orner)

My Friend Dahmer (Derf Backderf)

Object Lessons: the paris review presents the art of the short story (various)

Believe Me (Eddie Izzard)

Dharma Bums (Jack Kerouac)

The Last Interview: Roberto Bolaño

The Last Interview: Ray Bradbury

The Last Interview: Jorge Luis Borges

 

Books Read, June 2017 (highly recommended books are in bold)

The Dinner Party and other stories (Joshua Ferris)

But What If We’re Wrong? thinking about the present as if it were the past(Chuck Klosterman)

Spork (Maclear & Arsenault)

Building The New American Economy: smart, fair & sustainable (Jonathan Sacks)

Writing In The Dark: essays on literature and politics (David Grossman)

I’m Just No Good At Rhyming: and other nonsense for mischievous kids and immature grown-ups (Chris Harris, illus.Lane Smith)

Color: a natural history of the palette (Victoria Finlay)

The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe and other stories(Carson McCullers)

Stay Where You Are, Then Leave (John Boyne)

Asteroid Hunters (Carrie Nugent)

The Laughing Monsters (Denis Johnson)

The Good Earth (Pearl S.Buck, ill.Nick Bertozzi)

The Bricks That Built The Houses (Kate Tempest)

Glaxo (Hernán Ronsino)

Who Are You Really? the surprising puzzle of personality (Brian R.Little)

The Blue Fox (Sjón)

The Member Of The Wedding (Carson McCullers)

My Son, Mio (Astrid Lindgren)

Shenzhen: a travelogue from china (Guy Delisle)

The Abolition Of Man (C.S.Lewis)

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (Mark Twain)

The Snow Queen (Hans Christian Anderson)

The Fir Tree (Hans Christian Anderson)

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2017 in BOOKS

 

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105. Holiday Highlights…

About nine months ago I had the misfortune to spent five weeks travelling around Central America with nothing to do but eat, sleep, drink, tube down rivers, jump off bridges, see sites, meet great people and lie in hammocks in various youth hostels reading.

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It’s a hard life…

I have just discovered the notes I took from the books I read during this time, mainly in my first stop, the world-class Zephyr Lodge in Semuc Champey, Guatemala.

Friends, hammocks, adventure, sun, cheap drinks, a river, the board game Risk, and a shelf full of books to read: what more could one possibly want from life?

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The Moral Landscape: how science can determine human values,’ Sam Harris

First up, a deep and fairly controversial non-fiction book, (of which this selection is mainly comprised, I notice), from atheist Sam Harris who sets out a vehement attack on the belief that atheism leads to immorality and relativism, and that only religion can tell us what is right and what is wrong. Some interesting statistics:

“…while there are probably no more than a hundred serial killers in the United States at any moment, there are probably three million psychopaths, (about 1 percent of the population)…”

(And for more on the fascinating subject of how these psychopaths may, in fact, be running the world today, see Jon Ronson‘s excellent ‘The Psychopath Test‘.)

“There are, in fact, more people in the United States who can’t read than who doubt the existence of Yahweh…”

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Manual of Mental Disorders

Harris is critical of the DSM IV definition of ‘delusion,’ which was constructed to specifically exclude any ‘article of religious faith,’ and also based sanity on being in the majority:

“Does a lone psychotic become sane merely by attracting a crowd of devotees? If we are measuring sanity in terms of sheer numbers of subscribers, then atheists and agnostics in the United States must be delusional…”

Friends with families, (or on the verge of starting them), should probably look away now, since:

“…a famous study of human achievement suggests that one of the most reliable ways to diminish a person’s contribution to society is for that person to start a family…”

and furthermore:

“most of the research done on happiness suggests that people actually become less happy when they have children and do not begin to approach their prior level of happiness until their children leave home…”

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Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs,’ Chuck Klosterman

A hilarious romp through pop culture from journalist Chuck Klosterman:

“…what The Sims suggests is that buying things makes people happy because it takes their mind off being alive…”

There is a Tim Key‘esque section in the middle of this collection of comic vignettes where Klosterman lists “Twenty-three questions I ask everybody I meet in order to decide if I can really love them…” which had me gasping for breath with laughter:

“Number 14: For reasons that cannot be explained, cats can suddenly read at a twelfth grade level. They can’t write, but they can read silently and understand the text. Many cats love this new skills, because they now ahve something to do all day while they lay around the house; however, a few cats become depressed, because reading forces them to realize the limitations of their existence, (not to mention the utter frustration of being unable to express themselves).

This being the case, do you think the average cat would enjoy ‘Garfield,’ or would cats find this cartoon to be an insulting caricature?”

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Seriously…I’m Kidding,’ Ellen DeGeneres

I’ve never really seen much Ellen on TV, but finding this slim autobiog in a bookshop, and having run out of anything else to read, I’m glad I gave it a try:

“I’m crying so much I have mascara running down my face, And I’m not even wearing mascara…”

“Leaning forward in your chair when someone is trying to squeeze behind you isn’t enough. You also have to move your chair…”

“It’s so rare for people to actually set aside time to curl up with a book and read. By the way, I don’t know why you have to curl up to read a book, but that’s what people say. You can’t just say you’re going to read a book because then someone will ask, ‘Well, how are you gonna read it? What position will you be in?…”

Now THIS is how to curl up with a book!

Now THIS is how to curl up with a book!

I was lol‘ing so hard I was literally crying on the beach in Belize reading the fantasy holiday chapter at the end of the book:

“That sand bar incident was embarrassing. I wish I had asked more questions before I swam out there. It’s called a sandbar. Surely I’m not the first person to swim out there and expect a dolphin to make me a mai tai…”

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The Lacuna,’ Barbara Kingsolver

Having recently visited Mexico, reading this Kahlo and Rivera semi-fictional piece on politics, sexuality and Latin America was a must-read after having had it recommended to me by so many people. It was very well-written, with interesting historical insight into a period of history and geography I didn’t know enough about, but it was mainly the turns of phrase Kingsolver employs, (such as calling cigarettes ‘lipsticks‘!), and which I hope are well demonstrated by the following selection:

“He hid a scornful smile under his moustache, which is not a good hiding place…”

“…they went to bed, leaving her fluttering around the parlour like a balloon of air, let go…”

“His mother had let him carry two valises: one for books, one for clothes. The clothes were a waste, outgrown instantly. He should have filled both with books…”

(A notion I whole-heartedly approve of!)

“She’d solved the mathematical problem of age sixteen by saying she was twenty. At twenty-four she’d said the same thing again, balancing the equation…”

“Grandmothers sit on blankets weaving more blankets for other grandmothers to sit on…”

“…some typed in Russian, pages of characters in that strange alphabet lined up like rows of little men doing bending exercises…”

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Shah of Shahs,’ Ryszard Kapuściński

I am slowly but surely making my way through the complete works of historian/traveller/journalist/unpronounceable Polish legend Kapuściński’s back catalogue, and couldn’t believe my luck when I stumbled upon this slim volume on the last Shah of Iran and the subsequent revolution whilst in Nicaragua at the very end of my trip. Kapuściński’s writing and imagery is truly stunning at times:

“Money changes all the iron rules into rubber bands…”

“The forms through which a crowd can express its yearnings are extraordinarily meagre and continually repeat themselves: the demonstration, the strike, the rally, the barricade. That is why you can write a novel about a man, but about a crowd – never…”

“Iran – it was the twenty-seventh revolution I have seen in the Third World…”

That last sentence says it all: look out for him in the next entry in my Top 10 Favourite Authors series, coming soon.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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